By John Muse
The tribalism in wrestling is bad right now. It’s hard to find a middle ground.
One of the tribal lightning rods has been WWE’s success in spite of a divisive opinion regarding quality.
Can WWE be better and should WWE want to be better?
Many fans who gave up on WWE for other wrestling companies think you can’t make WWE better. Many fans who are devoted to WWE think WWE doesn’t need to be better. WWE will dismiss the former and love the latter, as they should.
It’s important to understand why people may feel a conflict exists between WWE success and quality.
Two slides from data guru Brandon Thurston (@BrandonThurston) at Wrestlenomics illustrate this conflict.
The WWE revenue slide shows revenue rising yearly. The viewers (18-49) slide for Monday Night Raw (a focus for me here) shows a noticeable decline. The third hour, a unique Raw feature, hurts the numbers. A company making the kind of money WWE makes should be able to produce something great but data shows a quality concern with the product. If long-term quality issues eventually hurt revenue, what would that do to WWE?
Circling back to my question: Yes, I think WWE can be better and yes, I think they should want to be. Getting there, at least short-term, is finding the one elusive thing…the middle that both tribes can agree on.
I’m here to offer a middle ground. I know, I know. I can hear the skepticism of both tribes.
WWE skeptics will say, “You’re going to fantasy book some wild PPV, rocket-pack Bron to the top, or run Roman vs Rock.”
Nope. Hot-shotting is not my style. There are only three named matches because I need them, and I won’t acknowledge a certain someone. This is about building something.
Those devoted will say, “You’re going to totally change WWE and I like it the way it is.”
Again, no. I’m going stay in the WWE world using their brands, their established concepts, their buzzwords, their PPVs, their TV time requirements, etc. I’m just going to pull everything together to push in one direction.
1. Fix Raw’s third hour.
– Three hours is a creative strain and is too long with the same talent and viewer experience.
2. Create conditions to reverse negative viewing trends years in the making.
3. Create synergy across the product that generates momentum and mechanisms to build talent.
4. Build the pipeline to expose and transition NXT talent.
– By the time they get put on a brand, they will be known and they will matter.
5. Deliver a concept WWE discusses but never truly realizes by doing something never done before.
A two-year concept implementing a creative framework that drives WWE, entertains the devoted, makes the departed curious enough to peek back in, and most importantly, positions WWE with new stars and momentum.
The new show would have content and presentation changes to both satisfy the new concept but also change the viewer experience from Monday Night Raw. Lighting changes and electronic color-scheming would provide an immediate switchover from Raw to WAR. The commentary team for the new third hour is Jimmy Smith (Raw), Pat McAfee (Smackdown), and Stu Bennett (NXT) to reinforce the ‘universe’ approach and feel. The show would promote stories across the entire promotion (normally those involving the talent appearing that week), talent-centric promos/vignettes, and have (most or all) cross-brand matches. Some matches could further stories for other brands while others create self-contained stories that can play out when the participants both appear on a particular week with payoffs at PPV. A creative benefit to the cross-brand concept and self-contained stories is that 50/50 booking can be disregarded. The true goal is to book the ‘best show’ with no talent restrictions other than not over-exposing talent.
Post Survivor Series, there is a growing friction between Adam Pearce, Sonya DeVille, and the brand-specific talent coming out of the Raw vs Smackdown matches. Over the next two weeks after Survivor Series, people cross over to exact revenge.
“Superstars are openly breaking the brand rules and defying leadership.”
The December 6th Raw opens to large security presence and rumors of impending changes. No monologues or McMahon intervention. Commentary is our conduit for information.
The December 13th Raw brings the Crossover Lockout Rule. People who cross over and get physically involved or appear on another brand without permission will be suspended.
“The doors are locked!”
On the December 20th Raw, Jimmy Smith mentions that he thought the Crossover Lockout Rule was the response from WWE leadership but he is now hearing that it’s bigger than just that.
On the December 27th Raw, Jimmy Smith says that what he mentioned last week was true. There will be an announcement next Monday, January 3, at 10 p.m.
The WWE Universe is changing.
Smith acknowledges that he knows what is coming but he is under a NDA that expires at 10 p.m. next Monday. NXT and Smackdown further hype the January 3 announcement. On Raw and Smackdown of that week, normal matches serving no known purpose are held. Edge beats Matt Riddle (Raw), Shinsuke Nakamura pins Mustafa Ali (SD). DeVille approaches Edge at ringside and Pearce with Nakamura as they exit the ringside area going into the commercial.
Fans don’t realize the changes are already happening in front of them.
January 3, 2022
The 1/3/22 Raw opens with the hype for the 10 p.m. hour. Bianca Belair wins a match in the spirit of the Edge and Namakura matches the week prior. DeVille and Pearce come down the ramp as the 9 p.m. hour is ending. Pat McAfee and Stu Bennett are following and then head towards commentary as DeVille and Pearce get in the ring.
DeVille has the mic.
“We know people were expecting an announcement on future changes. The future is now. The WWE Universe changes now. It became obvious after Survivor Series that issues weren’t settled. The biggest question about brand supremacy went unanswered. We’re going to get that answer. Your main event for later tonight was determined last week on Raw and Smackdown in a weekly Brand Supremacy Qualifier.
Shinsuke Nakamura will face Edge. Starting tonight and Monday nights at 10 p.m. going forward, Monday Night Raw will end and a new show will begin. For that hour, the Crossover Lockout Rule is suspended and the Battle for Brand Supremacy will be waged. Welcome to Monday Night WAR!”
The arena lights, boards, and apron will then go dark. The board would start playing the WAR opening video and we switch to full screen. When the opening ends, the new lights, boards, and pyro activate with Smith, McAfee, and Bennett kicking off the new third hour show. Over the hour they would explain the key points of the Brand Supremacy concept, the change to the calendar, and why things were changed. DeVille would be the Raw GM, Pearce the Smackdown GM and they co-GM WAR. Bianca Belair is Raw’s representative (through the win earlier) for next week to face Friday’s Smackdown qualifier (match is announced). They would also announce a number of wrestlers being moved from Raw to Smackdown to balance the rosters now that Raw is two hours. NXT’s role will be explained in the future.
We’ve rearranged the WWE Universe. Raw is aligned to two hours. The third hour now becomes a theme show (War) to offer unique content and connect story threads across shows. What can we expect from here?
The WWE calendar would be adjusted to make Survivor Series the end of the calendar year to leverage the concepts of the new show. The draft would be held weeks prior to Survivor Series and go into effect after the show. Survivor becomes the payoff to issues setup through the new show and answer questions surrounding brand supremacy (see below). This is logical because the current format is trying to answer questions from newly set rosters. We are now answering the question at the logical end.
Brand Supremacy (Year One)
The new show is driven off the concept of brand supremacy, a term used often but never leveraged. There is one weekly brand supremacy Raw vs Smackdown singles match (male or female). Raw and Smackdown would have qualifying matches to set the participants for the brand supremacy match that takes place the following week. This would feed into a match at Survivor Series each year. By the new show airtime, you would know who the Raw person was for next week based on the earlier night qualifier. WAR would announce the upcoming Smackdown qualifier match. This builds continuity and a hype cycle connecting the universe.
The brand supremacy match wins and losses are tracked as a running score, so wins and losses matter. At different times, the brand leading at the conclusion of the match for the week will be rewarded.
Every fifth match is a stipulation match with the leading brand (or brand qualifier) getting to announce the stipulation that night during Raw. A specialty match for a person can be chosen as an advantage to get a win instead of random choice. Fan choice/votes can be considered here as well.
Rewards are not limited to brands. Individual rewards can be won (or losers penalized) as part of the fifth match sequence or for other intervals/occasions.
Options are endless.
– Settle beef (pick someone from other brand to face you in a non-Supremacy match)
– Home brand secondary title shots (US, IC, or Tag)
– Mystery rewards where the person who won would know but the reward is not revealed until announced by the winner or it is used
We would avoid MITB type rewards or similar cash-ins.
The final rewards near the end of the calendar year will be the leading brand getting first pick in the upcoming draft. As incentive, the winning wrestler of the final would receive a World title match for their brand on the next show as that show lands during the draft week(s) when brand supremacy is getting ready to switch over to a new calendar year.
The brand supremacy concept changes for year two to a gauntlet format where the winner carries over to the next week. The other brand would try to line up past feuds, partners, or people who had success against someone on a streak to knock them off. Streaking brands would have a qualifier in the queue. This can also set-up angles/programs between the person on a streak and the person in the queue as both are on the same brand. Rewards would be set up for people who reach benchmarks and a year end match between streak holders could dictate year-end brand and individual rewards.
The status of Brock Lesnar would be addressed on the WAR debut. Brock is a free agent but still under suspension. When his suspension is lifted, he would not be allowed to appear on either Raw or Smackdown until he is assigned to a brand (Crossover Lockout Rule) but he would be eligible to appear on WAR. This would be a promotional sell for the show and give them the ability to bring Brock in without putting him on a brand until decided.
The Hall Pass
Reward or penalty? Someone could win a Hall Pass that would move them to the other brand for a month. The choice is theirs. Use it (maybe to get revenge on a cross-brand rival) or screw over the person they beat by passing on the pass. This person could end up in a qualifier fighting for the opposite brand against a tag partner or someone else to create heat that would be taken back to their home brand after the hall pass expires.
NXT Waiver Pick
While NXT does not participate officially in the brand supremacy weekly match, the new show would be a platform to feature the higher-profile NXT talent that is likely to come up at some point. NXT talent can be mixed into unique tags or singles. When it is time to elevate someone to a brand, WAR would host a NXT showcase match. You can do a straight announcement of two people or set up qualifiers on NXT to identify them. When someone is moved up from NXT, the brand with the leading score in brand supremacy gets the waiver pick to add the NXT talent to their brand. This approach makes the NXT person seem very important because the brands are fighting for that pick. You can have brands trying to stack the deck by getting a top singles name into the qualifiers to then set up a huge match.
“Raw and Smackdown go to battle next week on WAR for the rights to Bron Breakker!”
NXT Launching Pad
Stu Bennett’s role on WAR will include updates/features on promising NXT talent and happenings. Periodically, Deville/Pearce will appear on NXT to scout talent. Brands will sponsor a NXT talent to participate for their brand during brand supremacy to give one of the weekly Raw/Smackdown matches a break. This opens chances for NXT upsets over a main roster talent which also sets up future history between people. When a sponsored talent is ready to move up, the question becomes…will the NXT wrestler land with the brand that sponsored them or can the other brand find a way to steal the pick? Using this during a year two gauntlet concept and letting the NXT talent go on a streak would be a way to elevate an NXT profile and lead to more interest as they move up.
Building a Cross-Brand Faction
Through cross-brand matches or conflicts, the opportunity would exist for people on opposite brands to organically develop a relationship and form a faction that would appear together only on WAR until circumstances (the next draft, rewards, titles) bring the group together on one brand. You can form a fresh faction or something that might intrigue knowledgeable fans like AJ Styles, Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Ricochet. You can lay seeds for something like this early into the year and pull a faction together a few months before a draft. Get them over on WAR and drop the faction into a brand for the next year.
Besides standard hype and promotion, intrigue would be added to PPVs through the brand supremacy reward/penalty process. Events on the WAR common ground can result in a match on most PPVs. Brands can sometimes win stipulation choices for these one-off cross-brand matches. The Brand Supremacy match held the week before the Royal Rumble would determine the first entry in the Rumble (loser) and 30th entrant (winner). This would be announced early enough to allow for wrestlers to campaign GMs on the brand-specific shows to get in the qualifiers for a shot on the go-home show.
Title defenses can occur on the new show. The titles being defended can be rotated or used as a reward/penalty of the supremacy mechanism. If a person/pair wins a belt from another brand, those titles would be defended on WAR going forward until the belt is won by people from the origin brand. This is how you also solve champions from one brand being drafted to the opposite brand. They defend the title against people the Brand GM throws at them…trying to reclaim their belt. You can also choose to unify a belt (Men’s Tags?) and then have that belt being fought for as brands try to seize the belt(s).
These are just some of the things you can do through this concept to connect the WWE Universe and make it work together.
Content provided to other shows by this concept:
– Weekly Brand Supremacy match qualifier for the following week
– Arrival teasers of Smackdown or NXT talent that is appearing on new show
– Recaps, promos or announcements for that nights show or Brand Supremacy match
– Internal brand fallout (if any) from prior week’s 10 p.m. cross-brand show
– Weekly Brand Supremacy match qualifier for the following week
– Recaps, promos or announcements for Monday’s show or Brand Supremacy match
– Internal brand fallout (if any) from prior week’s 10 p.m. cross-brand show
– Qualifiers for any NXT Showcase matches to be held on the cross-brand show
– Announcements of any NXT talent that will represent NXT on a cross-brand match
– Potential appearances by Brand GMs to scout/sponsor talent